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Two UCSD malaria projects get Gates Foundation funding

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation included two local research projects in its recent round of funding for its Grand Challenges Explorations program.

Two research projects at the University of California, San Diego that look into ways to fight and eradicate malaria were each granted $100,000. They were among 76 grants from the Gates Foundation for this particular round of funding.

The first grant -- to post-doctoral researcher Kailash Patra, Ph.D.; Joseph Vinetz, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Disease; and Philip Felgner, Ph.D., professor and Director of Protein Microarry Laboratory, University of California, Irvine -- will facilitate the search for new P. falciparum transmission-blocking candidates that could be naturally boosted during malaria infection.

This would allow development of a vaccine that could maintain a person’s immunity after a single injection by preventing the development of malaria parasites inside the mosquito.

A second grant will provide support for development of a mouse model of human malaria by a multidisciplinary team: Vinetz; Catriona Jamieson, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of medicine and Director for Stem Cell Research with post-doctoral fellow Jennifer Black, M.D., at the UCSD Moores Center; and Inder M. Verma, Ph.D., Professor, Irwin Mark Jacobs Chair in Exemplary Life Science and American Cancer Society Professor at the Salk Institute.

This model will serve as a new tool for evaluating strategies to fight the disease, including testing critically needed new anti-malarial drugs and vaccines as well as testing for long-term toxicity of anti-malarial therapies.

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death in developing countries. It’s transmitted by mosquitoes in tropical areas around the globe

The Grand Challenges Explorations program is an initiative to help scientists around the world explore bold and largely unproven ways to improve health in developing countries. The grants were provided to scientists in 16 countries on five continents.

To receive funding, the investigators showed in a two-page application how their ideas fall outside current scientific paradigms and might lead to significant advances in global health. The initiative is highly competitive, receiving almost 3,000 proposals in this round.

“The winners of these grants show the bold thinking we need to tackle some of the world’s greatest health challenges,” said Dr. Tachi Yamada, president of the Gates Foundation’s Global Health Program. “I’m excited about their ideas and look forward to seeing some of these exploratory projects turn into life-saving breakthroughs.”

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